Certain foods have been shown to decrease heart disease risk by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol. And while you probably know about the cholesterol-busting powers of oatmeal, beans, and olive oil, you may be surprised to discover that some of your favorite foods can also make an improvement in your cholesterol profile. Here, the authors of The New American Diet lay out the science behind some surprising foods that can help protect your heart.
The antioxidants in pasta help control inflammation and insulin, which in turn helps reduce levels of harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. When Harvard University researchers analyzed the diets of more than 27,000 people over 8 years, they discovered that those who ate whole grains daily weighed 2.5 pounds less than those who ate refined grains. Barilla, a major manufacturer of pasta products, recently released a line of whole-grain pastas that are almost identical to the average supermarket brand, and you can buy them in bulk at discount stores!
A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating eggs increases good (HDL) cholesterol but not bad (LDL) cholesterol. So eggs actually help your arteries stay clear! In another study, overweight participants ate a 340-calorie breakfast of either two eggs or a single bagel 5 days a week for 8 weeks. Those who ate eggs (including the yolk) reported higher energy levels and lost 65 percent more weight—with no effect on their total cholesterol levels.
Hamburger (from Grass-Fed Beef)
The perfect heart-healthy diet is balanced in its ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. While conventionally farmed beef is about 1:20 in its ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, grass-fed beef is more like 1:3—close to the ratio found in most fish. And grass-fed beef has twice the vitamin E and only about 15 percent as much fat as conventionally raised beef. Grass-fed beef is available through a variety of Internet sources or at most farmers’ markets.
And if you must grab a burger on the go, be sure you don't pick up any of the 15 worst burgers in America.
It might not be perfect, but a fast-food breakfast is better than none, and the Egg McMuffin’s nice balance of protein, carbs, and fats with just 450 calories make it one of the best go-to options in fast-food land. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey II revealed that serum cholesterol levels are highest among those who skip breakfast. According to Harvard researchers, eating breakfast makes for smaller rises in blood sugar levels throughout the day. And regulating blood sugar helps reduce levels of harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
When researchers at Purdue University had people eat 2 ounces of almonds a day for 23 weeks, they found that not only did they not gain any weight, but they decreased their caloric intake from other unhealthy food sources while improving cardiovascular risk factors like lipid metabolism and cholesterol levels.
Almonds are also great muscle-builders, which in turn revs up your metabolism. Check out this list for more foods that pack on lean muscle.
Chipotle Grill’s Carnitas Bowl
A fast-food pork dish can improve your cholesterol profile? Yes. Chipotle Grill uses naturally farmed pork that’s high in stearic acid—the same kind of heart-healthy fat found in olive oil. By skipping the carbohydrate-laden wrap and adding black beans, you’ll get a healthy dose of protein and fiber as well.
If Chipotle isn't your choice for eating out, try one of these other surprisingly healthy restaurant foods.
Research shows that dark chocolate can improve heart health, lower blood pressure, reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, decrease the risk of blood clots, and increase blood flow to the brain.
Choose the best dark chocolate and other packaged foods with the Men's Health list of the 125 best foods in your supermarket.
The magic of the anchovy pizza comes from its combination of fish and garlic. Fish is loaded with minerals such as zinc, copper, iron, iodine, and selenium that work as cofactors to improve the effectiveness of cholesterol-lowering fish oils. Adding garlic to the mix lowers total cholesterol better than eating those fillets or cloves alone. Any fish/garlic combination will work, but few others will show up at your door in 30 minutes or less. Just be sure you don't order any of the worst pizzas in America.
Here are three 'healthy' foods that won't help:
You might think ordering the fish is always the best idea, but a 2008 report from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association stated that eating farmed fish such as tilapia may actually do harm to people suffering from heart disease. The reason: Tilapia is naturally low in omega-3s and high in omega-6s, and often served breaded and fried, making it no better or possibly even worse for your heart than fried chicken.
What you think is good for you sometimes isn't.
An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but when you strip away the apple’s fiber-dense skin and add sweetners, as most applesauce makers do, you create a processed food that’s high in sugar and low in fiber—a perfect recipe for blood-sugar swings that raise cholesterol levels. Conventionally grown apples also tend to be high in pesticides, which have been linked to obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Isn’t soy supposed to lower cholesterol? A study in the journal Circulation found that you’d need to eat 2 pounds of tofu every single day to lower your LDL cholesterol by a measly 3 percent. As a result, the American Heart Association no longer recommends soy as a heart-healthy food. Still, Americans eat enormous amounts of soy already, and recent studies show that soy makes it harder to retain muscle and easier to store fat.